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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: July 2011

2 - Evolution in source–sink environments: implications for niche conservatism


Demographic sources and sinks arise from the interplay of spatial variations in birth and death rates, and movement between habitats. One way to view sources and sinks is that, in the former, individuals are well adapted to the local environment, whereas in the latter, individuals are poorly adapted. This raises the question of how adaptive evolution might influence the evolutionary stability of source–sink population structures. When can a species’ niche evolve, so that a habitat – now a sink – becomes a source? This chapter provides an overview of theoretical investigations into this question. The scenarios considered include the fate of single favorable mutants that improve adaptedness to a sink environment, quantitative genetic variation for single traits determining local fitness, and the influence of reciprocal dispersal from sinks to sources. The overall conclusion across models is that the harsher the sink (as assessed in terms of absolute fitness), the harder it may be for adaptive evolution to sculpt adaptation sufficiently to permit population persistence. Theoretical studies show that the rate of immigration can have a variety of impacts upon evolution in sinks, depending upon many details of genetics, life history, and demography. Such theoretical exercises are not merely academic exercises, because source–sink dynamics naturally arise in a wide range of applied evolutionary contexts (such as the control of agricultural pests, and in disease emergence across host species) where the management aim is to prevent evolution in focal species in particular habitats.

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